On 29th November, a Climate Hustings was held for all of York Central’s parliamentary candidates. All of the candidates running for the Christmas election attended, except for the candidates running for the Conservative Party, Social Democratic Party and Yorkshire Party. Those at the hustings were told these candidates ‘didn’t respond’ to the invitation.
A husting is a type of meeting where candidates on campaign trails make speeches and address voter’s questions. York’s climate husting was organised by York YouthStrike4Climate and Campaign against Climate Change. York’s Youth Strikers had been striking earlier that day throughout the city centre. The hustings were overseen by 14-year-old Chloe Wilcox and Robin Melvin, both youth strikers and young activists. The first half of the questions that were asked were submitted by Friends of the Earth.
The candidates had differing opinions on how best to tackle climate change. The first question was on their plans to help the UK achieve carbon neutrality.
When asked what their most important policy changes to achieve carbon neutrality were, the Brexit Party candidate Nicholas Szkiler told the hustings to ‘stop focusing on carbon’ as we ‘breathe in and out carbon’ and that it can be properly used with ‘new technology from America’. The other party candidates present did not agree with this, all hoping to decarbonise the UK by 2030. The Brexit party does hope to decarbonise the UK, but have put 2045 as their target.
Asked the same question, Labour MP Rachel Maskell replied that ‘individual changes can make the biggest difference,’ arguing that mobile phones and using cars used up the most heat and energy.
Next, Green Party candidate Tom Franklin outlined the Green Party’s proposal for a Green New Deal, which would include ‘improvement of insulation for 1 million new houses, to stop road building, to stop building airports and for a change in our diets.’
Liberal Democrat candidate James Blanchard challenged Maskell’s point about individual change, saying that this wasn’t a strong enough policy. Blanchard argued for a just transition for workers in coal gas stations, praising a wind turbine farm that had been built in Hull as a good alternative source of work. Blanchard also emphasised how our society needed to get in the habit of ‘repairing things’ instead of being wasteful. Blanchard repeatedly spoke over his time limit throughout the hustings.
There was a small clash between candidates when a voter asked why the conservative candidate wasn’t at the hustings. Brexit Party’s Szkiler told those present that Fabia Tate’s absence was due to the ‘unlikeliness’ of the conservatives being elected; Liberal Democrat candidate James Blanchard defended her, speaking of her anti-fracking passion. Labour candidate Rachel Maskell finished the conversation by saying that no candidate should be speaking for another that was not present.
At times, the hustings strayed into the issue of Brexit, like when the candidates were next asked how ordinary people would have a voice in these changes. However, answers soon became climate-focused again when members of the public put forward varying concerns. The questions came, on the whole, from frustrated voters. The general feeling was that the York Council hadn’t been doing enough to play their part in tackling climate change.
One question came from a school worker who felt that climate change was not taught enough on the curriculum. They also added that there was not enough pastoral care in place for young people experiencing what many are now terming ‘eco-anxiety’.
Another voter asked for the candidates’ stance on climate refugees and international aid for countries on the frontlines of climate change. A third voter asked about the candidates’ policy plans to make agriculture less intensive and more sustainable but to still help UK farmers not miss out financially. All the candidates referred to manifesto plans in their answers, highlighting different areas.
The Green Party’s Tom Franklin outlined manifesto plans to introduce a ‘carbon tax’ on all imports, fossil fuels and ‘embedded’ carbon within imported energy.
Labour’s Rachel Maskell placed great emphasis on more accessible and cheaper public transport in York.
Liberal Democrat James Blanchard argued that decentralisation of government power would make tackling environmental issues easier at a local level. On the issue of refugees, Blanchard commented ‘if you export weapons of war then you have a moral duty to import the people affected by this’.
Brexit Party candidate Nicholas Szkiler made many of his arguments on the basis that he was a ‘man of science’. When asked after the hustings, he told this reporter that he had an unfinished Geology degree from Leeds Beckett University from more than three decades ago and had spent most of his career in business.
Szkiler originally started the candidacy race running for York Outer, but swapped constituencies with fellow Brexit candidate Mark Robinson a day before Nigel Farage revealed that the Brexit Party wouldn’t be opposing any Tory MPs.